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‘Too stressed to cook’: 1 in 5 US parents say kids eating more junk since pandemic

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The lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 caused people to eat at home more frequently, leading to suggestions that children were eating healthier during that time. New research finds that this might not necessarily be true.

According to a survey, one in five parents believe that their children have been snacking on junk food a lot more since the pandemic’s onset.

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The survey, which involved over 2,000 parents of American children aged 3 to 18, was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Although many parents say they enjoyed healthier meals since the beginning of the pandemic, 20 percent of the respondents admitted to being “too stressed” to cook, leading to one in six saying that their kids were consuming fast-food at least twice a week.

“The pandemic disrupted many family routines, including where and what they eat. We know families’ lifestyles can impact children’s diets, and we looked to see how the pandemic may have changed their eating habits,” poll co-director and pediatrician at the hospital, Dr. Gary Freed, was quoted as saying in a statement.

He added that families’ views on fast-food consumption varied based on the parents’ perception of their child’s weight.

“Parents who said their kids are overweight were almost twice as likely to say their children have fast-food at least twice a week, compared to those who said their kids are at a normal weight,” he explained, adding that they also identified “some barriers to home-cooked meals.”

“Around 40 percent of parents reported being too busy to cook, and one in five said they were too stressed. These challenges were also reported more commonly among parents with kids who were overweight.”

Fast-food is ‘okay’ in moderation

Although most parents agreed that fast-food was unhealthy for kids, more than 80 percent said they felt it was “okay” in moderation, poll results showed.

Three in four parents also agreed that when stressed for time, fast-food was a good family option.

A third of the respondents said that fast-food was good value for money. However, around 24 percent said they felt it was less expensive than cooking food at home.

“Parents mostly acknowledge that fast-food isn’t an ideal choice, but see it as an acceptable ‘sometimes food’. But parents don’t usually dictate their kids’ food choices at fast-food restaurants with 88 percent allowing their child to choose what they eat and only one in three parents reading the nutritional information,” said Freed.

Despite this, two out of three parents (around 67 percent of respondents) said that they encourage their kids to go for healthier options and try to discourage them from consuming unhealthy items such as milkshakes and chips.

“One fast-food meal often exceeds the recommended fat, sodium, and calorie intake for the entire day without providing many nutrients. Parents should consider using nutritional information to help their kids learn how to make healthier choices. Trying to make those meals even a little bit healthier can have an important impact,” he added.

Pandemic-spurred BMI changes in children

According to another study, the rate of body mass index (BMI) changes in children nearly doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

School closures, disrupted routines, increased stress, and less opportunity for physical activity and proper nutrition all had profound effects on children’s BMI, according to the study, published Thursday in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report on morbidity and mortality.

BMI is a measure that uses height and weight data to track changes in weight relative to height.

After surveying BMI changes in 432,302 US children aged between two and 19 before and during the pandemic, the CDC found that the rate of change nearly doubled from March to November 2020 compared to those that were recorded before the pandemic.

All the children in the study experienced significant increases in their rate of BMI change during the pandemic, except for children who were underweight, the report found.

Children or adolescents who were overweight or obese pre-pandemic experienced the largest increases.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, children and adolescents spent more time than usual away from structured school settings, and families who were already disproportionally affected by obesity risk factors might have had additional disruptions in income, food, and other social determinants of health,” the study’s authors wrote.

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